Book Quotes: Invisible Man

January 2, 2014

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison

You have looked upon chaos and are not destroyed!”
“No suh! I feels all right.”
-Pg. 51 Mr. Norton & Pureblood
"He winked. His eyes twinkled. “All right, forget what I’ve said. But for God’s sake, learn to look beneath the surface,” he said. “Come out of the fog, young man. And remember you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed. Play the game, but don’t believe in it—that much you owe yourself. Even if it lands you in a strait jacket or a padded cell. Play the game, but play it your own way—part of the time at least. Play the game, but raise the ante, my boy. Learn how it operates, learn how you operate—I wish I had time to tell you only a fragment. We’re an ass-backwards people, though. You might even beat the game. It’s really a very crude affair. Really pre-Renaissance—and that game has been analyzed, put down in books. But down here they’ve forgotten to take care of the books and that’s your opportunity. You’re hidden right out in the open—that is, you would be if you only realized it. They wouldn’t see you because they don’t expect you to know anything, since they believe they’ve taken care of that . . .”
“Man, who’s this they you talking so much about” said Crenshaw.
The vet looked annoyed. “They?” he said. “They? Why, the same they we always mean, the white folks, authority, the gods, fate, circumstances—the force that pulls your strings until you refuse to be pulled any more. The big man who’s never there, where you think he is.”
Crenshaw grimaced. “You talk too damn much, man,” he said. “You talk and you don’t say nothing.”
Oh , I have a lot to say, Crenshaw. I put into words things which most men feel, if only slightly.”
-Pg. 153, 154 The Vet
“Now is the time for offering fatherly advice,” he said, “but I’ll have to spare you that—since I guess I’m nobody’s father except my own. Perhaps that’s the advice to give you.
Be your own father, young man. And remember, the world is possibility if only you’ll discover it.
-Pg. 156 The Vet
 “I didn’t know, I couldn’t give much thought to love; in order to travel far you had to be detached, and I had the long road back to campus before me.”
-Pg. 177
“I wanted freedom, not destruction. It was exhausting, for no matter what the scheme I conceived, there was one constant flaw—myself. There was no getting around it. I could no more escape than I could think of my identity. Perhaps, I thought, the two things are involved with each other.
When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
-Pg. 243
 “The lobby was the meeting place for various groups still caught up in the illusions that had just been boomeranged out of my head: college boys working to return to school down South; older advocates of racial progress with utopian by no authority except their own, without church or congregation, without bread or wine, body or blood; the community “leaders” without followers; old men of sixty or more still caught up in post-Civil War dreams of freedom within segregation; the pathetic ones who possessed nothing beyond their dreams of being gentlemen, who held small jobs or drew small pensions, and all pretending to be engaged in some vast, though obscure, enterprise, who affected the pseudo-courtly manners of certain southern congressmen and bowed and nodded as they passed like senile old roosters in a barnyard
-Pg. 256
“This is all very wild and childish, I thought, but to hell with being ashamed of what you liked. No more of that for me, I am what I am!”
-Pg. 265
“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do? What a waste, what a senseless waste!”
-Pg. 266
 “I would have to weigh many things carefully before deciding and there would be some things that would cause quite a bit of trouble, simply because I had never formed a personal attitude toward so much. I had accepted the accepted attitudes and it had made life seem simple . . .”
-Pg. 267
“She’s let her religion go to her head, but we all know that religion is for the heart, not for the head.”
-Pg. 278
You’re not like them. Perhaps you were, but you’re not any longer. Otherwise you’d never have made that speech. Perhaps you were, but that part of you is dead! You have not completely shed that self, that old agrarian self, but it’s dead and you will throw it off completely and emerge something new. History has been born in your brain.”
-Pg. 291 Brother Jack
 “We’re not interested in his looks but in his voice.”
-Pg. 303 Brother Jack
Telling her that I was moving would be a hard proposition. I didn’t like to think of it, but one couldn’t be sentimental. As Brother Jack had said, History makes harsh demands of us all. But they were demands that had to be met if men were to be the masters and not the victims of their times.”
-Pg. 316
 “Perhaps the part of me that observed listlessly but saw all, missing nothing, was still the malicious, arguing part; the dissenting voice, my grandfather part; the cynical, disbelieving partthe traitor self that always threatened internal discord. Whatever it was, I knew that I’d have to keep it pressed down. I had to. For if I were successful tonight, I’d be on the road to something big. No more flying apart at the seams, no more remembering forgotten pains . . . No, I thought, shifting my body, they’re the same legs on which I’ve come so far from home. And yet they were somehow new. The new suit imparted a newness to me. It was the clothes and the new name and the circumstance. It was a newness too subtle to put into thought, but there it was. I was becoming someone else.
-Pg. 335
“I sensed vaguely and with a flash of panic that the moment I walked out upon the platform and opened my mouth I’d be someone else. Not just a nobody with a manufactured name which might have belonged to anyone, or to no one. But another personality. Few people knew me now, but after tonight . . . How was it? Perhaps simply to be known, to be looked upon by so many people, to be the focal point of so many concentrating eyes, perhaps this was enough to make one different; enough to transform one into something else, someone else.”
-Pg. 336
The other thing to remember is that if we are to organize the masses we must first organize ourselves.”
-Pg. 352
 “I thought of Bledsoe and Norton and what they had done. By kicking me into the dark they’d made me see the possibility of achieving something greater and more important than I’d ever dreamed.”
-Pg. 354
It was no dream, the possibility existed. I had only to work and learn and survive in order to go to the top.”
-Pg. 355
 “Master it,” Brother Jack said, “but don’t overdo it. Don’t let it master you. There is nothing to put the people to sleep like dry ideology. The ideal is to strike a medium between ideology and inspiration. Say what the people want to hear, but say it in such a way that they’ll do what we wish.” He laughed. “Remember too, that theory always comes after practice. Act first, theorize later; that’s also a formula, a devastatingly effective one!”
-Pg. 359
It went so fast and smoothly that it seemed not to happen to me but to someone who actually my new name. I almost laughed into the phone when I heard the director of Men’s House address me with profound respect. My new name was getting around. It’s very strange, I thought, but things are so unreal for them normally that they believe that to call a thing by name is to make it so. And yet I am what they think I am.”
-Pg. 379
“I was becoming aware that there were two of me: the old self that slept a few hours a night, and the new public self that spoke for the Brotherhood and was becoming so much more important than the other that I seemed to run a foot race against myself.”
-Pg. 380
 “I saw no limits, it was the one organization in the whole country in which I could reach the very top and I meant to get there. Even if it meant climbing a mountain of words. For now I had begun to believe, despite all the talk of science around me, that there was a magic in spoken words. Sometimes I sat watching the watery play of light upon Douglass’ portrait, thinking how magical it was that he had talked his way from slavery to a government ministry, and so swiftly. Perhaps, I thought, something of the kind is happening to me. Douglass come north to escape and find work in the shipyards; a big fellow in a sailor’s suit who, like me, had taken another name. What had his true name been? Whatever it was, it was as Douglass that he became himself, defined himself.”
-Pg. 381
When you’re a youngun, you Saul, but let life whup your head a bit and you starts to trying to be Paul—though you still Sauls around on the side.”
-Pg. 381 Grandfather
Life was all pattern and discipline; and the beauty of discipline is when it works. And it was working very well.”
-Pg. 382
And what do you care when some folks start knocking you? It’s a sign you getting some place.”
-Pg. 386 Brother Tarp
“There’s nothing like isolating a man to make him think.”
-Pg. 469
You could actually make yourself anew. The notion was frightening, for now the world seemed to flow before my eyes. All boundaries down, freedom was not only the recognition of necessity, it was the recognition of possibility.”
-Pg. 499
I knew that it was better to live out one’s own absurdity than to die for that of others.”
-Pg. 559
“I could only move ahead or stay here, underground.”
-Pg. 571
The Entire Fucking Epilogue
       December 30th 2013